Franchisees have become a sticking point; felt targeted as other small businesses were exempted from planning mandates
A bill aimed at bringing more stability to the schedules of hourly workers was blocked by the General Assembly’s Judiciary Committee on Monday after franchise business owners pushed back.
House Bill 5353, which would have required companies to partially compensate workers for canceling shifts with less than a week’s notice, would have exempted companies with fewer than 500 employees worldwide. Franchisees — who own and operate local operations of global brands like Dunkin’ and Subway — were not included in this exclusion.
This is ultimately what has stalled this year’s efforts to pass so-called “Fair Work Week” legislation. The bill was on the agenda of the Judiciary Committee on Monday but did not receive a vote.
“That doesn’t mean he’s dead, but it does mean that if we don’t see each other again, he’s dead,” said Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, Judiciary Committee member and co-chair of the Labor and Commission. of the public service, which is behind the bill.
“We made huge compromises last year when we were trying to get things done,” Porter said, adding that she felt Bill was in a “better position” to succeed this year. “Unfortunately, and to our surprise, that didn’t happen,” Porter said.
The bill appeared to have gathered momentum at the start of the 2022 session. Advocates and lawmakers had reached a compromise that would have allowed businesses with up to 500 employees — the vast majority of businesses in the state – to maintain the flexibility they said they needed.
But franchise owners said the bill unfairly excludes them.
“We have the same costs as any other small business,” said Michael Batista, president of the Connecticut Franchisee Association. “To say that a franchisee is different from any other restaurant owner or any other small business owner is wrong. It’s unfair to be targeted this way.
Roger Senserrich of the Connecticut Working Families party said he favors applying warrants to franchisees because, as part of a large corporation, they have access to automated scheduling software, hiring and payroll that allow them to engage in the practices that the bill seeks to regulate.
“The worst offenders, when it comes to bad planning practices, tend to be big business,” he said.
But Batista, which has several Dunkin’ locations in central Connecticut, said its stores have never had access to this type of scheduling program.
“Some big box stores may use software like that,” he said. “A small restaurateur would not have access to it.”
Batista said it made “logical” to give workers notice before changing or canceling a shift. In its stores, the schedules are generally organized 10 days in advance. “It would be unwise for a small business owner not to give an employee some notice so they could make accommodations,” he said. “But in my experience, sometimes too much in advance isn’t so great either – some of our employees don’t know what’s going on two weeks in advance.”
Porter, who grew up in a family with several small business owners, said “franchises are not your typical small business,” adding that she thinks the legislation shouldn’t make an exception for them. Many franchisees follow their company brand’s personnel policies and practices to the letter, and some of those policies intentionally limit staff hours, she said. For workers, she says, “it’s not just about predictable hours, it’s also about predictable wages.”
Returning from the Capitol on Monday, Porter said the fate of HB 5353 “weighs heavily on my heart” because she wanted to do more for the tens of thousands of hourly workers the state relied on during the pandemic.
“I am really disappointed that it has stalled and that we have not answered the call of our workers,” she said.